WASHINGTON—It turns out there is more than one way to stir up the color purple on the post-midterm elections paint palette.
Look, for instance, to Colorado and Pennsylvania for variations on that hue.
While geographically distant, the two political battleground states share numerous characteristics. Both supply bountiful energy resources—Colorado with coal, oil, natural gas and uranium, Pennsylvania with coal and natural gas—and are split between urban progressives with a wide green streak and rural conservatives who tend to be more leery of environmental initiatives.
And until Election Day, both states had bold Democrats in their respective governor’s mansions who are disciples of renewable energy, clean technology and low-carbon economies. However, results from Nov. 2 indicate that while that legislative momentum likely remains intact in Colorado, it could backslide in Pennsylvania.
“In states like Colorado, it seems like green is part of purple,” Ivan Frishberg told SolveClimate News in an interview. “That’s because of so much work done by a broad constituency of folks there who support this transition.”
But the situation is a bit more tenuous in Pennsylvania, said Frishberg, political director with the Washington-based advocacy organization Environment America.
“That’s a dramatic shift in the politics of Pennsylvania,” he said about a significant Republican presence. “So how will the leadership take on an ideological fight around energy? There’s a lot at stake with clean energy jobs. What will be interesting to watch is how the state handles an extreme shift in political leadership, given what has been the healthy development of a clean energy economy.”
Republican Make State Gains Nationwide
Most of the post-midterms talk centered on the Republican tsunami that swamped the federal government close to two weeks ago. The GOP reclaimed a huge edge in the House of Representatives by taking over at least 60 seats and slimmed the majority of the Democratic caucus in the Senate to 53-47 by gaining six seats.
But a similar GOP shakedown happened at statehouses. Before Nov. 2, Republicans governors guided 24 states. That number is now up to 29 and could rise to 30, depending on results in Minnesota.
Republicans also scored victories in even more state legislatures. They more than doubled the number of states where they control both branches of government, from nine to at least 20.
Traditionally-blue Pennsylvania was right in the thick of the anti-incumbent GOP changeover as it morphed into a purplish tone heavier on the red.
Voters favored Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett to follow two-term Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, who wasn’t on the ballot. They also turned both state legislative chambers over to the GOP. Before, Democrats reigned in the House, while Republicans ruled in the Senate.
On the federal level, the Keystone State will send one senator from each party to Capitol Hill instead of two Democrats. And, Democrats now represent just 7 of the state’s 19 congressional districts, instead of the previous 12. Voters ousted 13-term Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski and Rep. Joe Sestak, who beat Republican-cum-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary but ultimately lost the U.S. Senate race by a 2 percent margin to Republican challenger Pat Toomey.
In Colorado, classified as a red state until relatively recently, voters continued their march toward a blue-tinged shade of purple by replacing Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter—who opted not to run for a second term—with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. The geologist-turned brewpub pioneer has made green buildings one of his signature issues.
Instead of being Democrat-dominant, the Colorado Legislature is now split. However, Republicans will likely have just a one-vote majority in the House when final votes are tallied in one too-close-to-call contest.
At the federal level, the Centennial State will be sending two Democrats to the U.S. Senate after appointed Sen. Michael Bennet squeaked past Republican Ken Buck, a climate change denier courted by the Tea Party. On the U.S. House side, losses by Betsy Markey and John Salazar mean Democrats have three, instead of the previous five, of Colorado’s seven congressional districts.
“As things basically grind to a halt in Congress, action on energy and the environment will default back to states,” Frishberg said, adding that despite the Democrats’ collapse, “there are still enough states where those programs can continue to make real progress.”
Fingers Crossed in Colorado
Though Colorado conservation organizations fretted about the midterms, they were pleased when results indicated their state remains an island of blue. To them, it means the long-term commitment to a clean energy economy is resonating.
Since Ritter took charge four years ago, Colorado has been the envy of every “green wannabe” player. He and Tom Plant, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, invented and promoted dozens upon dozens of initiatives aimed at spurring conservation and attracting energy entrepreneurs.
In these fiscally restrained times, Colorado conservation organizations are hoping Hickenlooper doesn’t cause a hiccup in that steady climb.
“Ritter was the greenest governor in the country,” said Dana Hoffman, an energy associate with Environment Colorado, an advocacy group affiliated with Environment America. “Out on the campaign trail, Hickenlooper hasn’t made that his top issue. We’re afraid it’s going to be a challenge to prove to him that Coloradans want this as a priority.”
However, she was quick to tick off a series of positive signs. Leading the pack was Coloradans rejecting Buck as too extreme, she said, noting that the environmental vote made a difference in toppling him in his Senate bid.